If you have ever attended a big games show like E3 or Gamescom, you should have a pretty good idea of what the Tokyo Game Show is like. Except you don’t, because there are more people, crammed into much less space overall. Gamescom this year had 340,000 attendees, split over three public days. TGS on the other hand managed 270,000, but that was over only two days at the weekend when the show was open to public visitors. When you factor in that the amount of hall space at TGS is roughly half that at Gamescom, you end up with a lot of people crammed into that available space.
The Tokyo Game Show itself is not actually based in the city of Tokyo, but in a smaller city called Chiba, around 45 minutes away from the metropolis around the Tokyo Bay. The Makkuharri Messe complex is where the event is held, in a kind of new town development consisting of a railway station, shopping malls and restaurants, office blocks and the stadium for the Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team. The immediate vicinity of the Makkuhari Messe had a spacious feel about it that seems a long way from the more cramped and frenetic Tokyo. The addition of palm trees lining the central boulevards almost lent the place an LA feel, in comparison to the more New York vibe of Tokyo itself. As we queued in the heat to gain entrance to the show first thing in the morning, it certainly felt like California as well!
Whereas Gamescom (in 2012 at least) took up four large exhibition halls, along with some smaller areas set up in between, TGS sees all of its gaming goodness squeezed into three halls, one of which is used solely for special exhibitions and catering areas. All in all there were less exhibitors as well, with a massive gulf between the giants of Sony and Microsoft (and to a lesser extent Sega, EA, Square-Enix and Capcom), and the smaller developer areas. Whilst I have already talked about the queuing system at great length, it is worth reiterating again just how busy the Sony stand was in comparison to its rivals. Almost every minute of the day there was a large crowd just milling around, catching glimpses of the PlayStation 4 display model behind Perspex and staring up at the large monitor display above the stand, where trailers for games like Dragonball Z were shown on a constant loop, as well as occasional incomprehensible talks by developers. The wait to play actual games on the PS4 (and also to a large extent the PS3 and Vita) was just mind-numbing, with many gamers just content to get their hands on the controller itself, and not too concerned about what game they played on it. As I waited in line for around two hours just to play Knack, a title I was never considering actually buying just goes to prove this point!
The Microsoft stand was a lot more bearable, but still played host to lengthy queues for games like Titanfall, and those with only limited demo units available, like Crimson Dragon. It has to be said that the model Titan robot that was the centerpiece of the Xbox stand was genuinely impressive, lighting up and moving its sensors around, particularly when a shapely Microsoft booth babe was in close proximity! There was also an ‘over 18’s’ section of the Microsoft booth, where gamers waited away from young prying eyes to play titles like Ryse: Son of Rome and Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. Oh, and another thing to mention – photography was pretty much banned at every single game kiosk, particularly for the next-gen titles. The assistants were polite but firm about these rules as well, meaning it was pretty difficult to get a cheeky shot of most games running!
The catering arrangements left a lot to be desired, certainly compared to Gamescom. At the German event, fast food stalls lined the outdoor areas, selling everything from Curry Wurst to Bratwurst, ice creams, fries and burgers. Indoors there was an official concessions stand which sold more hearty and filling fare, along with a decent sized seating area. Tokyo Game Show didn’t possess any of these things, instead relying on the common vending machines for drinks, and a food court which filled half of the third hall. Now Japanese food is lovely, however the stalls at the Tokyo Game Show are not the best place to sample it. Cold Yakitori skewers, reheated curry rice and the worst Dominos pizza you could ever imagine were about your only options, and absolutely zero seating as well. The Japanese fans seemed happy to squat on the hard floor area provided, but this decadent westerner preferred to find a step to perch on to eat his selection of sausages and noodles (yes, really!) – it may just be a cultural thing, but after hours of standing in queues to play games, a nice seat would have been appreciated!
In addition to the main stands for the big name console titles, there were some smaller, quirkier areas set aside for more regional games. I have already mentioned the ‘marriage simulator’ area, where surprisingly around ten separate developers were showing off their wares, but there was also a couple of stands devoted to railway and bus simulators as well. There seemed a massive gulf between the half of the show floor devoted to megaton next-gen console games, and those tiny developers working on girlfriend simulators for mobile phones for example. Only in Japan can these things sit comfortably together.
So that was Tokyo Game Show 2013 – an amazing experience which I can recommend to anyone lucky enough to make the trip, but perhaps not as relevant to the gaming world as E3 and Gamescom. I will long remember it as the first place I played on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One!